When everyone asked us where we were going on vacation that summer and we said its name, Slovenia was the great unknown to all: but where is it? Slovakia? What is there to see? I’ll answer all those who have thought the same when reading the title of the post:
Slovenia is a country of the European Union located between Italy (to the west), Austria (to the north), Hungary (to the northeast), Croatia (to the south) and the Adriatic Sea (to the east). It has a little more than 2 million inhabitants and was born in 1991, as one of the six countries in which the former Yugoslavia was divided (together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia). The official language is Slovenian (impossible to translate), the official currency is the euro and the time zone is the same as in Spain.
The prices are very similar to those in Spain. In the capital they have the prices similar to those of Madrid and if we go away to rural areas they have prices as in the rest of Spain.
Here I leave the itinerary that we did in our tour of the country for a week. I warn you that we are quite active and we do not stop much for relaxation except the last days, so we can also adapt the same itinerary to a 2 week trip:
How to get to Slovenia?
From Spain, flights to Ljubljana, the capital, are very expensive. The best option is to fly to a neighboring country, rent a car and from there travel the country. The closest city is Trieste (Italy), which has very well priced flights. We flew from Madrid (stopover via Rome) with Alitalia and the flight was around 200 € each (round trip).
There are people who usually fly to Venice, although this option only comes out profitable if the flight is very cheap, since otherwise you will have to add the amount of tolls to Slovenia.
We rented a car at the same airport in Trieste, as always with rentalcars, and I consider it’s essential if you want to move freely around the country.
Make sure before renting that the car company allows the crossing of borders, since you are going to rent a car in Italy but you are going to travel to Slovenia (they will inform you on the rentalcars phone). We rented with Hertz and it cost 320 € for the whole week.
Friday 21/07/2017-> Flight from Madrid (Alitalia) – & gt; Trieste (Via Roma Fiumicino)
Beware, if you fly with Alitalia you can only check in online 24h before and only with some of your rates, so you have to do it one day before the return or, if you travel with the economy rate like us, you have to do it at the company counter. We checked in at the Madrid airport before leaving.
We arrived in Trieste, picked up the rental car and stayed overnight in a Bed & Breakfast very close to the airport 100% recommended: B&B Casa Sofia (55€/night breakfast included).
Departure to Ljubljana.
Note: before entering Slovenia you have to buy the sticker that allows you to drive on the toll roads: 15 €/week ( toll booth). Can be purchased at any Italian gas station or in Slovenia at the entrance to Slovenia by motorway. Keep in mind that they are 7 whole days, that is, from Monday to Sunday, not from Monday to Monday.
On the way from Trieste to Ljubljana, we stopped to visit the Carso (Karst) region. This southwestern region, located near the coast and Trieste, stands out for its peculiar calcareous formations. Throughout the centuries, the water has been chiselling its relief, creating a suggestive mosaic of depressions, cavities and channels that wind under the subsoil. Such is its natural value that part of this region, the caves of Škocjan, were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. They are well indicated on the road. They have a free parking and they give you several options to visit. We chose the guided visit to the caves (the simple one, then there was another that delved into new ones that have been discovered but we did not have time for everything). You can also take a walk around, through a well-marked path, in which you can see the landscape. Very pretty.
The excursion, guided in English, lasts 2 hours and costs around 15 € per person.
Following our way to the capital, there is another of these wonders: the Postojna cave. It is considered one of the most beautiful in the world (they are famous for being the largest caves in the world that allow sightseeing). Discovered at the beginning of the 19th century, its 21 km in length can be traveled on board a train. We did not do it because it seemed more of the same (Skocjan’s are the prettiest). They have a paid parking (if you stay more than 2 hours) and a museum of animals such as lizards, etc…
Just 9 km away and on a mountainous wall, stands the solemn Predjama castle, one of the prettiest in the world for being excavated in a 123-meter-high stone wall (28.90 euros combined ticket to the castle and the cave). The visit to the interior of the castle is also dispensable, but it is worth seeing it from outside.
Finally we arrived in Ljubljana. We are not going to recommend the hostel where we stayed, because it’s not worth it.
That night we wanted to dine at the gastronomic market (Odprta kuhna) but it turns out that it’s only on Fridays, so we ended up having dinner by chance in what we thought was the best places in the city. Take note:
Restaurant Druga Violina, Stari trg 21, Liubliana. I recommend booking a table in advance, since we had to wait about 30 minutes to have a table on the terrace, but it is very worth it. The price of the dinner for two with lemonades and beer was 30€.
This day we had planned to visit Ljubljana but as we saw that the next day there would be bad weather, we took the opportunity to make the excursion that we had planned for the next day. Actually there are 2 excursions that we did in the absence of time on the same day. If you go with spare time, I recommend you do each of them in a day and sleep in that area (there are some farms designed for it that are formidable).
- Logarska Dolina: It is a glacial valley located in the Slovenian Alps. It takes a little less than 2 hours to get from Ljubljana and you have to pay an entrance to the Park area (I remember it was about 5€ or 10€. In Slovenia they charge you for everything: parking, parks natural, waterfalls, etc …).
From here we went to point # 14 on the map. Here you can park for free (strangely in this country) and we started a path towards the RINKA waterfall (the second highest waterfall in Slovenia). Once here, we continued climbing, with spectacular views over the valley, to the mountainous Okrešelj circus (in just over an hour). Here we found the mountain refuge Frischaufov dom na Okrešlju , at 1,396 meters of altitude. It is open from May 1 to the end of September, offers meals and accommodation and is a great option to take as a base in the route of the different routes that run through these mountains. We went back to the car and ate a menu of the day in one of the restaurants in the park … I do not know how much you eat, but with one for both of us we would have had more than enough (first soup in a giant bowl, several second meats with mashed potatoes, salad, drink and dessert). Filled and full of power, we headed for our second excursion of the day:
- Velika planina it is a village of shepherds that is still in use (and that they strive to preserve) in which from June to September it is possible to see the royal shepherds with their cows and stay in the wooden houses scattered across the meadow.
It is assumed that it can be accessed with a steep cable car which we saw the structure but it wasn’t working. In any case, I think it is much more worth walking up. I recommend you park your car in this location (GPS coordinates 46.281161,14.671336) and follow the path that ascends with signs to Velika Planina. You will pass through small villages and thousands of cows. In this area there are many excursion possibilities, not only this one, so if you go with more time you can make several routes. Once up you will see that the town is beautiful and the views are wonderful. In addition, some of the shepherds offer fresh products, such as sour milk or cheese. We descended our path and returned to Ljubljana.
That night we also got lucky with our dinner choice. We tried to dine in the restaurant Luda , near the hostel and, although expensive, one of the best restaurants in Slovenia (expensive, modern cuisine), but that day was closed, so we decided to try our second option and it was a success:
Restaurant Most. The terrace is very nice, next to the river, and the food is exquisite. Taste the local red wine, it is marvellous! Again a dinner for two, with wine, beer and dessert 40€
This day, although the weather was not so good (it was diluted several times throughout the day), we visited the wonderful city of Ljubljana.
To start the day well, we went to have breakfast at the cafeteria recommended by my friend Marusa (Slovenian 100%) Kavarna Zvezda, in the congress square, where you can choose from a huge selection of delicious tarts and cakes.
Although this city of 270,000 inhabitants can not compete with the main Central European capitals from the architectural and monumental point of view, its stately streets, avenues and parks and its intense cultural life make it a charming city. It does not have many museums or notable buildings, but the simple fact of walking through it and sitting on a terrace to enjoy a delicious ice cream is a pleasure. It is full of musicians through the streets that animate and set the spirit of the city.
Ljubljana has many Renaissance houses and baroque palaces, not forgetting other constructions designed by its most renowned architect: Plecnik. Also, do not miss its old town, its castle, the cathedral of San Nicolás (XIII century), the triple bridge (renovated in 1931 by Plecnik), the bridge of the Dragons – the symbol of the city (1901) or the source of the Three Rivers of Carniola (18th century). For this, as always, I recommend that you to take a “free tour”, that although you will not walk more than a few meters, they will tell you stories of the city that I will not reveal to you now (let’s leave a bit of surprise).
After our tour, we went up to the Ljubljana castle. You can go on foot (quite affordable although the ramp is a little steep) or funicular. From there you can enjoy the views over Ljubljana and the mountains that you see in the distance.
It started to rain a lot and we went for lunch. Once again we made the right decision with the choice of the restaurant (in case I had not said it enough times already, the food is excellent in Slovenia!)
Restaurant Gujzina, in the center of the city, where we could taste dishes from the east of the country. All delicious. Here, do not leave without tasting the typical dessert: Gibanica.
Our afternoon was quite wet so we decided to go to our next destination (Triglav National Park), but if you have time to enjoy the city, I recommend you to walk through Tivoli Park, enjoy street music and stroll through the downtown streets, which by the way, is closed for traffic. There is a small free electric train that will take you where you want, you just have to tell where you are going (inside the center) and they will take you.
We did not have time, but another good visit, if you have another day off (or if you do not want to do the mountain tours), from Ljubljana, visit: Maribor, Celje and Ptuj, knowing the area of Lower Styria, in eastern Slovenia: the region of Podravska.
Halfway between the capital and Maribor is Celje, the third city in the country with 50000 inhabitants, which has the largest castle in Slovenia and one of the best preserved. It is popularly known as the City of Counts and has a history that goes back to the Celtic and Roman times. Its historic center is beautiful and cute, has a careful architecture and some interesting museums and curiously goes unnoticed. If you visit this town, you should pay attention to the church of San Daniel, the Museum of Modern History, the National Palace, the Water Tower, the Slovene Popular Theater or its early Christian baptistery.
Visit of Maribor , the second largest city in Slovenia although it does not reach 100000 inhabitants, famous for its white wines, its status as a university city and for the Austro-Hungarian tradition. The city was the European Capital of Culture in 2012. The historic center stands on the banks of the Drava River, just below Pohorje, the Franciscan Church and the Cathedral of San Juan Baptista. The most famous place in the city – Old Vine House – where the oldest vineyard in Europe is more than 400 years old also deserves attention.
After Maribor, exit towards Ptuj which has a reputation as a museum city. It is the oldest Slovenian city. Its mythical castle of the ninth century is reflected in the Drava river that passes below. It is also worth a visit if only for a stroll through its medieval streets and contemplate the red roofs of their houses from his castle. And it offers absolute tranquility with hardly any tourists! By the way, if you like wine this area is full of vineyards. There are thermal baths in Ptuj. It has a vast monumental heritage, comprising a castle and some Roman bas-reliefs that have been reused for other later constructions. Its historic center has been elevated to the category of National Heritage. Also, just 10 km away, the traveler will come across Ptujska Gora, possibly the most beautiful Gothic church in Slovenia.
I can not recommend the apartment that we rented in the Lake Bled area because, although well located, it was quite seedy. It is worth staying near the lake to be able to contemplate it at sunset.
This area is within the Triglav National Park , in the Julian Alps, (the only one in the country) and Mount Triglav is the highest peak in Slovenia (you can climb and it is said that you will not be an authentic Slovenian until you climb to the top – 2864 meters). Here is a route to upload in 3 days: http://www.viajaporlibre.com/blog/ascension-triglav-eslovenia/. We could not do it for lack of time but I noted it for the next one.
The National Park can be visited in a circular route by car, including passage through a tunnel by car-train.
The first thing we did on the day was to visit the Vintgar Gorge . Another of the natural wonders of the area: a 1.6 km natural gorge escorted by the Radovna river that even children can do. I recommend going at the very first hour because after it is full and you may have to do more than an hour of queue to get the ticket (you have to pay, like almost all natural attractions in the country) and the area, saturated, loses everything its charm.
- Lake Bled: It is very touristy and seems to be taken from a fairy tale, with its majestic castle in a ravine and its island with church included in the middle of the lake. You can walk almost completely around with a very nice walk. We discovered that the best views of the island are not obtained by paying the entrance to the Castle of Bled (you pay for the parking and you pay for the castle), but by climbing one of the hills next to the Bled campsite.
Here the most tourist thing to do is to take a traditional “pletna” boat trip to the island, where the Baroque church of Santa María is located, where people ring the bell and make wishes.
If you go to Bled in summer, keep in mind that there is Okarina Festival Bled : The Okarina Ethno festival has a long tradition in Bled. In its more than 25 years, many ethno players, both from Slovenia and abroad, have passed through its stages located in the Castle of Bled and on the promenade that surrounds the lake.
- Lake Bohinj (the largest in the country), further away from so many tourists, offers absolute tranquility and wonderful views over Slovenia’s highest mountains, as well as a multitude of sports activities such as hiking or canoeing.
The lake is flanked by the Julian Alps, and has many hiking trails that you will love (at any tourist office you can ask for the route map, which offers 22 different options). It is worth the route around the Mostnica river. The trail is well signposted, it is reached from Stara Fuzina and starts from the so-called Devil Bridge on spectacular gorges between which the river runs. Continue up the mountain offering natural wonders such as the famous elephant rock along the way, until you discover high alpine meadows, with some small farm and some wooden houses (they are holiday homes, since practically no one resides there) to culminate in the Mostnica waterfall. A total of 6 km, it takes more than 3 hours, depending on the heat, but it does not have much complexity and it is very worthwhile. On most trails you have to pay a small fee , which is usually 5€ per person and goes to the maintenance of the place. (In many of these places you will also have to pay to park the car).
Another attraction in the area is Vogel. From the famous Lake Bohinj we can reach Mount Vogel, where one of the most popular ski resorts in Slovenia is located, in the heart of the National Park of Triglav. Thanks to the Vogel Cable Car you can see wonderful landscapes with the mountains and forests in the background and the protagonist of the Bohinj Glacier Lake. From the vicinity of the lake, specifically in Ukanc, you can take the cable car, which leaves every half hour and that will take you through a small air route to the surroundings of the ski station, at about 1500 meters altitude and you can photograph the imposing Julian Alps, among which Triglav Peak. We did not do it for lack of time and because we thought that the entrance to the cable car is a little high.
When leaving Vogel, it is a good idea to visit the Slap Savica waterfall. It is reached by a short walking tour. As practically all the hiking trails in the country, it is very easy to locate and perform. It is one of the most touristy because Savica is, without a doubt, the most famous waterfall in Slovenia (although not the biggest one). Arriving is very easy, because it is perfectly signposted. From the lake it is about 10 minutes by car and you can park near the booth where you can buy tickets for the trail (about 5€ per person + 5€ for the car). In about half hour and 500 steps later, you reach the waterfall, from where there are beautiful views over the valley. The Savica River is the one that fills the famous Lake Bohinj and is born in the Komaca rock, falling in the form of a waterfall: the Savica waterfall.
One of the options that you have in your days for the Triglav National Park is to know the source of the Soca River, where the Soca Trail usually starts. The Soca Trail is a nature trail that takes visitors from the Triglav National Park along the Soca River, from its source to the town of Bovec. It is the first path created in the National Park, and is a path that connects, in turn, the old roads that ran through the Valley of Trenta and other sections of the valley, taking visitors off the road and noise. Its symbol? It is the endemic Spotted Trout of the Soca River, which will greet us drawn, in the informative posters of the National Park, in this mountain valley.
Do not leave this area without tasting the trout and smoked cheeses of the area. They make it great on the grill! Oh! And the Kremsnita dessert of course. You will love it
Another option, highly recommended if you have good weather, is to do rafting and canyoning in the river Soča: strong> From Bovec , a small town at the foot of the Julian Alps 85 km from Bled, most of the rafting and canyoning companies start along the Soča river with waters of one color green and blue very peculiar. The photos that you can do in this area are very promising, because the beauty of the Alps in tune with the canyon that forms this river of pure and crystal clear waters is magnificent. (The best company I have found of price is this: http://www.3glav.com/).
To get to this area, you will have to pass through the Vršič Pass and zigzag through impressive alpine peaks. It is a mountain road with 50 extreme curves that reach the town of Bovec.
Another option in this area of Slovenia is to know one of its alpine resorts such as Kranjska Gora: a charming alpine town and Slovenia’s largest ski center offering many activities throughout the year. Here we did not go but I read recommendations to try a soup of barley in the restaurant Gostilna Pri Martinu, you can tell me how it is.
You will also have the opportunity to visit Skofa Loka, the charming base city of the Triglav National Park , and one of the oldest in Slovenia. Its tranquility, its preserved old town and architecture make it a visit that should not be missed. Nearby is Kranj, another of the cities that surprises a lot even though it does not have much name either. Calm streets, churches, a castle and red roofs, something very typical in cities throughout the country.
One of the excursions we did and we liked a lot, although it is quite far from the Bled area (it’s worth spending a night here and not coming and going on the same day as we did), it’s the Gorges of Tolmin (Tolmin Gorges). Also paying a ticket (5€ I think) you will go through an itinerary similar to that of the Vintgar gorge but with more turquoise waters and a lot less saturated with tourists.
One of the surprises we got in this city was seeing that we arrived right in the middle of the Metaldays . Every year in July, Tolmin transforms into a paradise for fans of metal music and festive holidays by the water. This legendary festival is held on the shore of the emerald Soča river, one of the most beautiful alpine rivers in the world. This edition (5th) had the presence of the legendary Marilyn Manson.
Tired of the weather not being with us as much as we would have liked, we set off for the coast. On the way we go through the Vipava wine valleys, where anyone who wants can taste the best wines as well as enjoy an ideal landscape.
We arrived at the coastal area and what was our surprise to discover that the beaches of Slovenia do not have much to do with the idea we had of what a beach is (or was). The beaches on the Slovenian coast do NOT have sand. The coast is a wall and if you want to access the sea, to have a swim, they have arranged some stairs like those of the pools to lower or climb the water. Very uncomfortable to lie down to sunbathe but cleaner than the sandy beaches (let’s look at the positive side).
After much searching the internet we found two beaches (in the 46 km of coastline that the country has) that were the closest thing to the beaches we were looking for:
- The first one is the beach that is at the end of the city of Piran (just under the church). It has a first area a little crowded and if you continue walking you will reach the nudist area, where the beach is made of small rocks.
- The second beach, which we liked even more than the first one, is in the Strunjan Natural Park. You can park your car in the parking lot in front of the hotel Svoboda ( 1 €/hour) and walk along the beach in the opposite direction Piran. At the end of the beach, you will find the nudist area again, where you will be practically alone and with the views of the tower of the Piran church in the background. Is very pretty!
In these days on the coast you can explore the charming villages of this Adriatic coast. Villages as charming as Pirano (Piran), Capodistria (Koper), Portorose (Portorož) or Isola (Izola). In some of these enclaves some of the most beautiful ancient helmets of Slovenia are conserved.
PIRAN: Visit the best preserved medieval Venetian harbor. Its wall has a special value. It is the best-preserved urban cultural monument in Slovenian Istria and the closest city to the mundane Portoroz. Here we went to eat at a restaurant, Marusa’s recommendation once again, in which you will be delighted: Pri Mari (María’s House).
PORTOROZ: We did not like it. It reminded us of Benidorm. It is a town full of hotels and shops and restaurants for tourists. However, we found a restaurant that we liked a lot of good, nice and cheap fresh fish: Fritolin. We ordered fish, salad, Mediterranean pasta… all great.
The towns of Piran and Portoroz are connected by a promenade and you can walk from one to another in a long half hour. In both towns you will have to pay to park the car. The cheapest parking is found at the entrance of Portoroz.
KOPER: It is the most important city on the coast. Stroll through the streets of the city and you can see Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque constructions. Most of Koper’s most interesting tourist spots are concentrated around the City Tower, which is 36 m high and is visible in the distance. Among the most interesting points are the cathedral, the lodge and the Praetor palace. We coincide with the city festivities and there were several stages scattered along the promenade and very good atmosphere.
Finally, I also recommend you visit the Saltworks Regional Park on the border with Croatia. They are the most northern saltworks of the whole Mediterranean and one of the few in the world where the salt is still produced following the same method as in the s. XIV. The photos here at sunset are gorgeous.
We spent the last day on the Italian beach of Marina Julia, in the Natural Reserve “Foce dell’Isonzo Isola della Cona”. The beach is not great, but the area is very beautiful.
That afternoon we took the flight back to Spain from Trieste, again via Rome.
Gastronomy of Slovenia
The Slovenian cuisine is diverse and has a strong traditional character, being able to find more than 20 different styles of regional cuisine, with an important influence of neighboring countries such as Hungary, Austria, Italy or the Balkan countries. Famous are the strong soups that are taken throughout the year but especially in winter (do not forget to try the jesprenj or delicious soup of barley), calorific stews or goulash, with the potato, beans and cabbage as main ingredients, without forgetting the ubiquitous meats and fish, which they also like (fried calamari are specialty and they cook them very good). If you are a bit of a taste of regional cuisine, tell them that Italian food (pizzas and pastas) is everywhere but versioned in their own way (they cook a lot with pumpkin seed oil).
The desserts are the most varied, the Potica, a kind of roll with nuts that is eaten all over the country.
Slovenian wine has earned a certain name and is very consumed throughout the country although it wins beer (pivo), with brands such as Union or Lasko (very cheap: 2 euros a pint).
In the Gostilnas, or traditional taverns, you can eat very well a menu for 8-10 euros. The truth is that the Slovenian food has surprised us pleasantly, we have loved its flavor and it offers great variety.